Population level differences in adult body mass emerge in infancy and early childhood: Evidence from a global sample of low and lower-income countries



Many studies have linked measures of adult body shape and mass in ancient and contemporary populations to ecogeographical variables such as temperature and latitude. These results tend to support Bergmann's rule, which posits that bodies will be relatively less slender for their height in colder climates and more slender in warmer climates. Less well explored is the ontogeny of these population-level differences. Here we use data on infants and children from 46 low and lower income countries to test whether children's weight for height is associated with measures of temperature and latitude. We also test the hypothesis that children living in areas with greater pathogen prevalence will be lighter for their height because of life history trade-offs between investment in immune function and growth. Finally, we test whether population specific adult body mass predicts infant and child body mass, and whether this is independent of ecogeographical variables. Our results show that maximum monthly temperature explains 17% of children's weight for height while adult population-level body mass explains ∼44% (Table 1). The measures of pathogen prevalence explain little of the variation in children's body shape (8%; P > 0.05). Our results suggest that population differences are consistent with Bergmann's rule but parental body shape explains more variance. Moreover, these population-level differences arise early in development, suggesting that any possible environmental influences occur in utero and/or result from epigenetic or population genetic differences. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:232–238, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.